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article imageOp-Ed: Why Obama's weigh in on Gates' arrest was not a mistake

By Sitafa Harden     Jul 24, 2009 in Politics
Dealing with issues of racial inequality in America is part and parcel of the tremendous responsibility President Obama willingly took on when he became our nation's first black president.
The media has been swarming with coverage of President Obama's response on Wednesday to the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by the Cambridge, MA police.
Most pundits concur that Obama unintentionally drew attention away from his health care reform agenda by responding to the question.
They also believe that he made a mistake in weighing in on the issue—a mistake which he later regretted and sought to retract today. I disagree.
I believe that in spite of his great desire to promote health care reform, President Obama realized that this was an opportunity to weigh in on a volatile issue plaguing America.
The President himself said as much. Today, in a White House press conference he stated:
There are some who say that as President I shouldn't have stepped into this at all because it is a local issue. I have to tell you that part I disagree with.
The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society. Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive as opposed to negative understandings about the issue is part of my portfolio.
As he demonstrated during his 2008 election campaign, President Obama does not shy away from addressing racial problems. Against the advice of some in his own camp, he insisted on writing and delivering a speech on race relations in America entitled "A More Perfect Union".
That turned out to be a monumental speech which was long overdue and contributed greatly to encouraging our national dialogue on racial equality.
The President went on to say in today's White House press conference:
My hope is that, as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what is called a "teachable moment".
Where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and trying to focus on how we can genuinely improve relations between police officers and minority communities. And that instead of pointing accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.
Lord knows we need it right now.
The media further questioned why Obama chose to weigh in on this particular issue. Since taking office he has consistently avoided directly addressing racial issues related to unemployment and the economy.
So, the media asked, why is he chiming in now?
I think the simple answer is—because he can. To the horror of right wingers, Obama has a pulpit now. And while he will not abuse that soapbox, he will also never hesitate to use it to facilitate "teachable moments" to help our country or the global community as a whole.
Racial tensions, unfortunately, are still a part of the fabric of America, and addressing these issues should be included in the job description for every president.
Lord knows we need it right now.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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